"I'm totally impressed with what I've heard and seen. Chelsea have sold the club to me."
"I think I can take my game on from here and win a lot of medals with the club. Hopefully I can test myself against the best players in Europe and we can contest for trophies."
-Frank Lampard, The Guardian, 2001. VI. 14.
It is rather ironic that in a season that has already seen Chelsea win a club record number of penalties, Frank Lampard is struggling for goals. Struggling not for the season - his 14 in 44 appearances are in-line with his 1-in-3 Chelsea average - just as of late. Specifically, since hitting the 200-goal milestone a month ago.
When Lampard scored his 15th header in royal blue down at the Shed End, we figured Bobby Tambling's record of 202 stood little chance of surviving. When he scored for England a few days later, we figured it was a certainty. Frank's going to break the record! He will take his rightful place at the top of the Chelsea scoring charts - what better honor for such a strange, truly unique breed of midfielder?
But that would've been all too easy. That would've been too much like a rerun of, say, Didier Drogba's perfect Chelsea ending. Not that it's a certainty that he will fail to surpass Tambling's mark but Lampard has now gone nine games without scoring. Since he's not Torres, this is actually rather rare. Nine in a row ties for third longest in his Chelsea career, after a 13-match drought at the end of the 2006-07 season and a 10-match span at the end of the 2008 calendar year. He also went nine scoreless (if you count the Community Shield) before converting a penalty for Chelsea's second goal of this current Premier League season.
That penalty was the first of 17 - the club record number mentioned earlier - won so far this season. Injuries and squad rotations have denied Super Frank the chance to take all but six of them. Despite Eden Hazard's and David Luiz's general excellence in converting them as well, that's a sad ratio for arguably the greatest ever penalty taker in modern history. As it stands, Lampard has scored 47 penalties for Chelsea (of 54), an average of just four per season. While he already has five this season - the one miss coming in a crucial ... spot ... versus Joe Hart and Manchester City - he must look at those eleven not taken by him longingly as he stares down the ever-widening gulf of goals and time to Tambling's record.
Because if there's one thing that's playing against Frank more than his advancing age, his slowly declining form, and suboptimal team tactics, it's time. There is a very real chance that Lampard is less than a month away from having played in his last competitive Chelsea fixture. I'm not sure we're letting the magnitude of this sink in - whether that's due to Interim distractions or just plain old denial - but the man who has been synonymous with Chelsea Football Club since 2001, the man who is third on the all-time appearance charts, and the man who has kissed the badge more often than all but one, may soon be gone. And not gone as in having taken up a non-playing position at Chelsea, but gone as in having taken up a playing position elsewhere in Europe or the USA or, heaven forbid, Manchester United.
So why is no one talking about this? If Frank takes the pitch Sunday versus Swansea City, it will be his 400th Premier League appearance for Chelsea. Have we already resigned to losing the club's arguably greatest player of all time? Have we grown tired of talking about all this after the deluge of headlines last season and, again, earlier this season? Has everyone concerned already said his piece and is now just letting the chips fall where they may? Speak up, young Moses, I can barely hear you!
"Everyone would like to see Frank Lampard stay next season."
"He has been magnificent for us this season, he's scored goals and created goals at the same time. He is a legend for this club and the players would love to see him here next season."
Twenty-one years ago, Kerry Dixon was nine goals away from Tambling's record when Chelsea cashed-in on him. He was 31 that summer and would go on to play for five more years, scoring 30+ despite rapidly declining form. Of course, Tambling himself was just 29 when he was sold, his career extending another decade beyond. Had he stayed, 202 would probably not be the number to shoot for.
In the end, it's not the numbers that matter. The other day I visited my second home down Bidwell way and, amongst other things, walked out with a couple bottles of Lost Abbey Red Poppy Ale. Red Poppy Ale is a seasonal offering from Southern California's Port Brewing Company - a personal favorite from a personal favorite. It comes corked and capped in standard sized 375 ml bottles and it costs $15. Make no mistake, that's a lot of money for a bottle of beer. But it's oh so very, very good and it's oh so incredibly unique. Sure, other breweries make sour cherry ales, too, but not quite like this.
Not. Quite. Like. This.
Chelsea and Lampard have six, probably seven matches left together. It's a partnership that over the years has been of so very, very good and oh so indescribably unique. Three more goals would be nice. One more year would be even better.